TORONTO: The World Health Organisation has granted an emergency authorisation to AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine, a move that should allow the UN agency’s partners to ship millions of doses to countries worldwide as part of a UN-backed programme to tame the pandemic.
In a statement Monday, the WHO said it was clearing the AstraZeneca vaccines made by the Serum Institute of India and South Korea’s AstraZeneca-SKBio.
The WHO’s green light for the AstraZeneca vaccine is only the second one the UN health agency has issued after authorising the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in December. Monday’s announcement should trigger the delivery of hundreds of millions of doses to countries that have signed up for the UN-backed COVAX effort, which aims to deliver vaccines to the world’s most vulnerable people.
Countries with no access to vaccines to date will finally be able to start vaccinating their health workers and populations at risk, said Dr Maringela Simo, the WHO’s Assistant-Director General for Access to Medicines and Health Products.
The coronavirus pandemic has infected about 109 million people worldwide and killed at least 2.4 million of them. But many of the world’s countries have not yet started vaccination programmes and even rich nations are facing shortages of vaccine doses as manufacturers struggle to ramp up production.
The AstraZeneca vaccine has already been authorised in more than 50 countries, including Britain, India, Argentina and Mexico. It is cheaper and easier to handle than the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which needs deep cold storage that is not widespread in many developing nations. Both vaccines require two shots per person, given weeks apart.
Last week, WHO vaccine experts recommended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for people over age 18, including in countries that have detected variants of Covid-19.
But that was contrary to the recommendation from the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which said countries that had identified a virus variant first seen in South Africa should be cautious in their use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, suggesting that other shots be prioritized instead.